Partnership as a Permanent Enterprise

by Fred M. Hechinger

The Yale­New Haven Teachers Institute has three missions: (1) to give academic strength and vitality to New Haven's public schools, (2) to offer Yale's faculty a deeper insight into the nature of American education, its students, and its teachers, and (3) to spread the idea of such service as widely as possible to universities in cities around the country. Together, those three goals truly add up to Common Ground.

These were the issues discussed at the June 20, 1994 meeting of the Institute's National Advisory Committee, joined by Yale's President Levin. The discussion went beyond the three broad goals for the building of successful Yale­type university­schools cooperation to underscore collegiality, teacher leadership, subject­matter focus, institutional position on reform, and commitment to the long term.

A serious flaw in both public and private funding of educational pilot projects is the tendency to turn the spigot off as soon as there are signs of initial success, and to move on to other, newer experiments. It should therefore be clearly understood, both by Yale and by present and potential funders, that the Yale­New Haven collaboration is not­repeat not­a pilot project: it is a firmly established, educationally proven enterprise. It must be viewed as permanent­ an educational way of life for Yale and the city schools. But permanence can be achieved only if the financial base is sound. And while the Institute is on the way, it must still struggle to build an adequate endowment to insure both continuity and independence. As Jim Vivian put it, to be a persuasive model, it cannot afford to have other universities shrug: "If Yale can't do it, how could we possibly do it elsewhere?"

Important, too, is the critical mass. A partnership between school and campus can be considered successful only if it does more than serve a few teachers. The goal should be to open up vistas of intellectual partnership to all who want to take part. In New Haven, about half of the public school teachers have done so.

There is, however, another aspect of scale. The Yale­New Haven model works because the city is small enough to give Yale an opportunity to make an impact. In larger cities cooperation may have to be limited to special areas in order not to dilute the effect.

Why is it important for Yale to succeed as a model? The answer is, as Gordon Ambach pointed out, that throughout the country a great void exists between the public schools and the universities. Even where there are limited contacts with the schools, largely through the universities' schools of education, there is no lasting bond between the universities and the schools. Most of the contacts that do exist fail to touch the hearts of either institution.

If other universities want to look to Yale as a model, what matters are not the details of the Institute's operations; what is crucial is the understanding that, from the beginning, the relationship between the university and the schools was regarded as a true partnership among equals. Public school teachers, who regularly get orders from above, are understandably suspicious that the university professors may come to them as another superior force.

The Yale­New Haven project works precisely because both sides­the teachers and the university faculty­know that they can learn much from each other. The teachers want the benefit of scholars to strengthen their academic disciplines, the professors can benefit a great deal from witnessing the techniques of good teaching and from getting a first­hand view of what today's school­age youngsters­soon to be undergraduates­are really like.

President Levin stressed that, if the Yale example is to serve as a successful model, it ought to be clear that it is easy to imitate the structure and yet miss the vital point of the importance of the spirit of true cooperation. He pledged that he would try to persuade his presidential colleagues at other universities, especially in the cities, that such partnerships deserve their serious attention. As for his own bailiwick, he urged the Yale Corporation to endorse the Institute's permanent role as a unit of the university. This took place on September 23.

Equally important, if the Yale experience is to be replicated in other cities and by other institutions, is the commitment of the arts and science faculty as scholarly partners of the public school teachers. This does not mean that the faculty of schools of education are to be excluded, it does mean that the partnership, to be effective, should not merely involve education school staffs and the teachers. Perhaps it is unfair to say that the New Haven program works so well because Yale has no school or even department of education, but it is true that this places the responsibility on the shoulders of the arts and science faculty.

I have had the privilege of serving on the advisory board of a program called "Stanford and the Schools." It was a well­managed effort that has made valuable contributions in its own way. But because Stanford University has a strong and highly regarded Graduate School of Education, it proved far more difficult­in fact, nearly impossible­to involve sufficient numbers of the university's larger academic community. In addition, the outreach from the university to six school districts was largely limited to contact with school administrators rather than with individual teachers.

What the Yale experience and the deliberations of the National Advisory Committee make clear is that the university­school partnership cannot work unless it is taken seriously as a permanent academic enterprise, not as minor dabbling in doing good works at the fringes. The Yale model would not work without the organization, planning and fiscal realism of the Institute, the full­ time professional leadership of James Vivian, and the enthusiastic and tangible support by the university's President. With these vital conditions now firmly in place, the Yale­New Haven Teachers Institute is ready to serve as a model for other universities and other cities, and the many teachers waiting to be admitted to a truly professional partnership.

Back to Table of Contents of the Fall 1994 Issue of On Common Ground

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